Before we get into the recipe here, I want to talk a little about how I came to make it. It's fairly typical for me and I suspect other people go through the same process, but I don't recall ever seeing it written up.
So, my batter bread was a few days old and I still had a quarter of the loaf sitting there starting to get stale. Its flavor was a bit too strong and distinctive for me to want to make bread crumbs and it was too soft and crumbly to slice for french toast.
Bread pudding might work, but savory or sweet? With all the molasses in the bread, it could make an interesting savory bread pudding with pork and barbecue flavors, but I wasn't going to have time to cook a pork shoulder until the weekend and didn't think the bread would last that long. Still a good idea for the other loaf of the batter bread that I've got in the freezer. But for now, sweet.
As the bread as aged, it's started to smell kind of like cocoa--lord knows why--so I think a chocolate bread pudding would be a good choice. I quite like how the dark chocolate worked in the oat bars so I'll use the rest of that if I've got enough. After looking at a few recipes, I don't think I do have enough, but I have got a bar of Lindt dark chocolate that can fill it out. The infused chili oil will actually be a nice touch. Now, if I had more chocolate and not enough bread, this dish would have turned out more interestingly as I would have added some of the corn muffins I have in the freezer. There's a Mexican drink called tejate mixing chocolate, corn masa and spices that I could use as a flavor guide. That would have been pretty cool and I regret that I couldn't go in that direction. Maybe next time.
I've got banana in the freezer that should work well with chocolate and the flavor of the bread so I look around to see if such a thing as banana bread pudding exists. Indeed it does, and banana chocolate bread pudding at that, so I won't have to invent anything new. On one hand, that means its more likely to work out, on the other hand, I don't get to experiment as much unless I deliberately leave myself ignorant of what others have done which I prefer not to do.
When I'm making something that's a known codified dish, I find a bunch of different recipes and examine the similarities and differences. It usually boils down specific choices at various aspects and steps. Here, it's questions like: what ratio of dairy to bread do I use? do I slice or mash the banana? melt the chocolate or leave it in pieces? There are also basic versions and more complex ones that add frills like nuts and spices. There may be different schools of those that pull the dish into various cuisines. Not so much in this case.
Once I've got my options in mind, I sometimes decide what I want to do and write the new recipe out and sometimes I just wing it as I go along. I went with winging it this time and, entirely accidentally, most of the choices I made were the same as Emeril Lagasse's version of the dish. I didn't so much follow the recipe as we were both headed in the same direction.
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, cold and cut into small dice
2 large eggs
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup half and half [This is a rather low amount of dairy for the amount of bread so feel free to increase but don't decrease the ratio.]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon [I considered adding nutmeg and/or allspice, but I go to that too-obvious flavor combination to often.]
1 ripe banana, mashed [frozen and defrosted is even better.]
1/4 cup pecan, chopped
2 1/2 cups bread, diced [baguette or brioche is tradional. My batter bread made a substantial difference in flavor and texture. It's not far off from pumpernickel so that would be a fine substitution here.]
3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
0. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8x8" baking dish with the melted butter.
1. In a large bowl whisk eggs with sugar, half and half and vanilla until sugar is dissolved and eggs incorporated. whisk in cinnamon and banana until no banana chunks are in evidence. Stir in pecans, bread and chopped chocolate. Make sure the bread is well coated in the egg mixture and leave a few minutes to overnight for it to soak through. [I just did the few minutes.]
2. Pour pudding mixture into prepared baking dish and bake until just firm and a knife inserted into the center of the pudding comes out just about clean, around 1 hour.
3. Cool pudding in dish until warm. Cut into squares and serve with confectioners' sugar and/or whipped cream and, preferably, a cup of coffee.
I quite like how the flavors of the banana and the bread merged and, for that matter, how the bread, banana and custard physically merged into one solid mass. You can see in the picture that the insides have a texture more like the caramel of the graham cracker gooey bars I made a couple months ago than a standard bread pudding. That only happened because of how soft and crumbly the crumb of this particular loaf was. I don't think a baguette would work nearly the same way.
The pudding had plenty of roasted banana flavor without the chocolate fully distributed so keeping that in chunks was the right choice to give some nice flavor and textural contrasts (the nuts help there too). And, on the textural end of things, the crispy edges were very nice and I wish the top had gotten crisp too. Maybe a minute under the broil would have done it, but I'm afraid I might have burnt the chocolate. Otherwise, I'm pretty happy with the results. I don't think it was as fabulous as my coworkers said it was, but it was pretty good.